Elderly at Greater Risk of Alcohol Impairment

As Baby Boomers become senior citizens and health care advances extend the quality and quantity of life, Americans are living longer lives. This generation brings with it those who have healthy lifestyles along with those who suffer from substance abuse. With such a large percentage of Americans losing some regular mobility and possibly memory with age, comes a greater chance that those who already suffer from alcohol abuse will suffer even greater impairment as senior citizens, according to a new study from Baylor University

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 20 percent of the population will be 65 and older by the year 2030. Greater education on proper nutrition and public health issues has helped inform Americans about better lifestyle choices and offered advanced medicine to help people stay healthier and live longer. With more research, scientists hope to better educate the public and physicians on the risks the elderly take when consuming alcohol.

Multiple studies have shown that alcohol impairs older adults more significantly than younger adults, but the Baylor study is the leading neurological study to establish a baseline of acute effects of alcohol on older adults. Researchers presented their study in June 2012 at the Research Society of Alcoholism conference.

Using adult rats and aged rats in their experiments, researchers found that the aged rats had far greater problems with muscle coordination after alcohol consumption than the younger rats.

Alcohol abuse is not just a problem of the younger generation. Of those Americans over age 65, nearly 8 percent of women and 13 percent of men misuse alcohol. Scientists believe that this misuse signals greater problems and that 1 to 3 percent of those seniors may have an alcohol use disorder.

Aging makes individuals more susceptible to falls and accidents. Adding alcohol to that mix increases risks of both. Lead author of the article, Douglas B. Matthews, Ph.D., added that for senior citizens, alcohol misuse can also lead to problems with the multitude of medications that seniors often take. Intoxication may lead some seniors to forget to take their medicines or cause adverse reactions.

Study co-author, Jim Diaz-Granados, Ph.D., chairman of Baylor’s department of psychology and neuroscience, says that researchers hope their work will help better educate both the seniors who are affected by alcohol misuse and their caregivers.